Shoot to Show or to Edit

"Shoot to Show" and "Shoot to Edit" are two different styles requiring different methods of planning. No one knows these techniques better than
a run-and-gun News Photographer.

I've produced video on nearly every conceivable subject during my 15 years as a television news photographer. When I have the luxury of time, I shoot multiple takes of the same subject for editing variety and choices or "shoot to edit." However, the demands of a daily deadline require I sometimes use a different method known as "shoot to show", in which the camera work is very efficient but provides minimal choices for editing. Both methods have their place in your video skill set, as proficiency in one area will help you excel in the other.

In the Days of Yore

It was quite expensive to shoot several takes in the days of shooting news on film, and the editing and processing time made for the famous "Film at 11" signature on many newscasts. The 6:00 evening show usually had a newscaster reading on camera without the film that may have been shot earlier, because it may have still been in the processor. Most news photographers of those long-gone days would arrive at a location and shoot one long shot of the event. They would start with a wide shot, hold it for about five seconds, then slowly zoom in tighter to the left side of the scene, then slowly pan across to the right, followed by a long slow zoom out to an angle similar to the starting point. One long thirty-second shot was all he needed to cover most news stories. One long shot made for less editing, which was actually cutting the film strips with a splicing machine and taping (or cementing) the saved portions together; a tedious and time-consuming process. Now, tape is cheap, editing is quick and long boring thirty-second shots are, well, long and boring.

Shoot to Edit

Nowadays, when you shoot to edit, you'll want to think like an editor. First, record several angles of each scene: wide-angles, closeups and other interesting angles, to provide variety and selection in the finished production. You can shoot several pans, zooms and tilts at different speeds and directions. Even if you're shooting something as still as a statue, in just a few minutes time you can have several unique choices for editing later. We often use this multiple-take method in TV news when our story subject is not visually compelling (can anyone say city council meeting?). But be forewarned: too many choices can bog down the editing process.

When you shoot to edit you shoot in a very methodical way. You would shoot all of your exterior shots at the same time, and then all of your interior shots, regardless of how you will edit them later. You would also shoot each area of a room or event from one location, getting several shots, angles and cutaways, then work your way around the room for other angles.

Options Everywhere

Another shoot to edit option is using multiple takes for match-editing and sequencing. This series of unique and varied shots show a seamless and logical progression of action. You don't have to shoot your sequence in order, just edit them in order. For instance, I wanted to show some highlights of a local fair for a news story. So,
I shot the following sequence in this order:

  • Medium shot of girl with money at booth
  • Close up of money exchange
  • Close up of girl eating cotton candy
  • Wide shot of cotton candy booth

    I shot the money exchange first, because that was in action when I arrived, and I didn't have to wait for the girl to make her candy selection. When I edited the shots for broadcast, they appeared in this order:

    1. Wide shot of cotton candy booth

    2. Close up of money exchange

    3. Medium shot of girl with money at booth

    4. Close up of girl eating cotton candy

    This final order was more logical and told the story sequentially. Remember that your sequences must make sense. A man turning to his right in a hallway cannot come into a room from his left in the next shot. Stay on the same side of a person or object throughout your sequence to avoid this issue.

    Shoot to Show

    When you're in a hurry with little or no time to edit, another shooting method is editing in the camera or shoot to show. This shooting style is also called editing in the can, because, again, back in those old days of film, the photographers shot their stories using film canisters, or cans. When time is at a premium, shooting in the camera will save your bacon. This method requires you to think like a photographer and an editor at the same time. Its single purpose is little or no editing required once the shoot is complete. The downside: your shot choices are minimal, so you better get it right the first or second try because that's all you'll get to pick from in the edit bay.

    A Faster Way to Shoot, But…

    Diametrically opposite from shooting to edit, editing in the camera emphasizes lean and mean shot choices, with almost no alternative angles, zooms or cutaways to edit in later. All sequences must be shot in order and the shots carefully chosen. When recording, the emphasis is on short, smooth camera work. This doesn't mean you must rush your shooting, just be efficient!

    Script out the scenes, if you can. A few notes written out or a rough storyboard with sketches of what the beginning, middle and end of your sequence should look like will help.

    For maximum effectiveness, when using the shoot to show method, you must limit the number of takes you shoot. Establishing shots are first, then you rotate between medium, closeup and wide shots, none too similar to the preceding shot, following a planned sequence until you arrive at the final shot. How do you know in what order to shoot? Because you sketched out the storyboard before the shoot began!

    Work the Room

    In the shoot to show method, you work your way around the room rather than the shoot to edit technique where you shoot several shots from one location then move to the next nearest location, following a logical path from place to place in the room. Shoot to show technique requires you to shoot each scene in the room as it will appear in your final sequence. In the case of a city council meeting, you might start with a wide shot at the back of the room, then move to the front of the room for a shot of someone speaking at the podium, then move back for a medium side angle shot of the council board. You have limited choices, so you need to shoot each shot as smoothly as possible. Use a tripod for steadier shots and carefully press the record button to minimize visible shakes during the first and last moment of each shot. None of the shots is longer than five seconds, unless the action demands a longer take. To properly shoot to show, you would focus, compose and frame every shot first before you hit the Record button, then hold that shot long enough, then stop the recording before you move the camera and reframe for the next shot. Take your time now, and you'll save time later.

    Shoot to Show vs. Shoot to Edit

    Both methods are polar opposites: One calls for choices and creative style, the other limits choice almost entirely but calls for precise timing, composition and control. Think of both of these as cross training: If you can shoot all you want, you'll learn what works and what doesn't in the edit booth, making you more efficient. If time is at a premium, you'll be able to pull from your creative experience the best angle for the production.

    Randy Hansen is a TV news chief photographer who has learned much of what he knows through trial and error and error and error…

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